Always a Logger: Arlene Smith ’08

Arlene Smith ’08
IT’S ALL THAT  Flow arts includes dance, juggling, fire spinning, and object manipulation, among other activities.

When Arlene Smith ’08 was a psychology major at Puget Sound, she had never heard of the art form that would later define her work and her play. She’d spent a year on the university cheerleading team and later joined Repertory Dance Group—but flow arts? Not on her radar.

Flow arts is “a combination of circus, dance, and object manipulation,” according to Smith. She was introduced to one part of it—spinning tethered balls called poi—in 2012, and ended up spending years in Seattle’s robust flow arts community. In January 2020, she co-founded one of the few nonprofits in the country dedicated specifically to the art form: Seattle Flow Arts Collective came into being because Smith wanted the flow arts community, mostly made up of less financially established people in their early 20s, to have better access to resources.

“All our events are free or by donation— we don’t want financial issues to be a reason why people can’t come play,” Smith says of the performances, classes, and programs that fall under the nonprofit’s umbrella. “But if we want to pay our artists a living wage and produce a high-quality event, we can’t really do that on just community support.” Seattle Flow Arts Collective has absorbed community events that previously happened without the support of grants and donations that the nonprofit can now pursue.

And, though COVID-19 changed the collective’s early plans, it also opened new possibilities. “We hosted a virtual get-together every Tuesday, literally from March 2020 until the end of last May, when we had our first in-person event,” Smith says. “The community that we were able to find virtually— people from all over—was really beautiful and unexpected.”

As the nonprofit continues to expand and evolve, one of Smith’s main priorities continues to be play. “I take play very seriously; it’s essential to being human,” she says. “When we’re playing, we’re trying things without being too attached to the outcome, and that type of exploration is just life changing. That’s what flow arts is to me.”